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American Culture

As you may know, one of the hallmarks of U.S. culture is independence. Here is some advice about how to interact and integrate into American Culture written by non-U.S. students just like you!

Tips from Students

Take the Initiative
In order to make friends, you must take the initiative to meet people. Because of the American value of independence, Americans will not always be looking out for you, or making sure that you are getting acquainted with other people. They assume you are taking care of yourself unless you tell them differently. If you don't ask for help, Americans will assume you don't need anything. So remember—ask for help when you need it!
Saying ”Yes“, the first time!
Another point of advice: In some cultures, it's polite to refuse two or three times if someone offers something to you. But in the U.S., it is polite to answer "Yes, please" if you would like what is being offered. Many interesting situations have come up when a non-U.S. student who was hungry or thirsty refused the offer of food or drink, thinking this was polite behavior. But when no second or third offer was made, there was no chance to say yes.
Find a Group (or Groups!)
Contrary to the stereotype of independence and individuality, most Americans are conformists and gain their identity by belonging to groups. You may notice that many students join groups in order to both get acquainted with others and in order to satisfy a need to belong. You may be surprised at how many students look alike on your campus, with similar hairstyles and clothing.

Americans are sometimes difficult to figure out, so keep an open mind and get to know them as individuals.

U.S. Holidays and Customs to Know

One fun way to learn about a culture is to participate in its traditions. Here are a few key holidays that Americans celebrate throughout the country:

1 January New Year's Day Welcome the new year with parties starting the night before (New Year's Eve on 31 December)
3rd Monday in January Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Commemorate the birthday of the African-American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
14 February Valentine's Day Celebrate love and romance by exchanging tokens of love (usually cards, candy or gifts).
3rd Monday of FebruaryPresident's Day Honor past American presidents like George Washington (the nation's first leader) and Abraham Lincoln (Civil War hero who helped abolish slavery).
17 MarchSaint Patrick's Day Celebrate the patron saint of Ireland with parades and parties decorated in Irish green.
1 AprilApril Fool’s Day Play a clever (but harmless) trick or tell a joke to someone with a good sense of humor.
Last Monday of MayMemorial Day Remember the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.
4 JulyIndependence Day View public displays of fireworks as Americans mark the date when thirteen U.S. states declared their independence from England in 1776.
1st Monday in SeptemberLabor Day Honor the contributions and efforts of hard workers throughout the country.
2nd Monday in OctoberColumbus Day Pay tribute to Christopher Columbus, who is traditionally thought of as the discoverer of the Americas in 1492.
Last Thursday in NovemberThanksgiving Day Feast on a traditional meal that commemorates the dinner shared by the Pilgrims (first settlers of the thirteen colonies) and the Native Americans.
25 DecemberChristmas Day Celebrate the birth of Christ, leader of the Christian faith, by exchanging gifts with family and friends.

There is much, much more to learn about the United States.

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